When Butch Jones took the reigns of the Bearcats I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to go 4-8 in his first year. Despite having the highest scoring offense in the Big East, other aspects of the game failed the Bearcats and they finished with just two conference wins. Fast forward to 2011 and Cincinnati returned more experience than any other Big East squad. But could they take this experience and win football games like they failed to do in 2010? Phil Steele picked them to finish in a tie for third in the Big East and projected them to the Compass Bowl. When we did our preview we ended up plugging them in at 4th (yeah, I picked them 6th…I’ll admit it but I also said they would show “significant improvement”). Cincinnati did show significant improvement and won six more games then they did in 2011 and finished in a three-way tie for first in the Big East. It was a big break-through for Butch Jones and the team but now they face a bigger challenge in 2012…life without Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead and living up to new expectations for this regime. We caught up with Scott from Bearcats Blog to get his take on the 2011 season and get a quick sneak peak at 2012.
CFBZ: Cincinnati went just 4-8 in Butch Jones debut season but bounced back this year to go 10-3. What were the biggest reasons for the improvement?
Bearcats Blog: Last year Cincinnati was hounded by turnovers. They couldn’t create any, and coughed up too many. This season, the Bearcat defense forced a lot of turnovers. Zach Collaros had a little INT trouble, but nothing like last season.
A couple of other big reasons were that Isaiah Pead was the focal point of the offense. When he got touches and yards this season, Cincinnati won. Even in the Tennessee loss, Pead had all but 40 of his yards when the Bearcats were moving the ball. Pead was the Big East offensive player of the year for a reason. That reason is he is very, very good. It’s going to be hard to replace Collaros, but the big question next year is what running back, or backs, can fill in Pead’s numbers. The offensive line was great all year long. Not a ton of penalties, not a lot of sacks.
The last big reason for the Bearcats success was the defense. In 2010, the Bearcats gave up multiple giant plays in nearly every game. That, along with being on the field so much, really put UC behind the 8 ball. The Bearcats of 2011 didn’t get crushed with giant plays too often. Only 1 team all year ran on the defense. UC gave up 2.7 yards a carry. UC had an elite defensive lineman, Derek Wolfe, which helped matters. 2 teams had their way with the defense, which was a dramatic change from last season.
To recap, flipped the script on turnovers, had Isaiah Pead and a solid defense.
CFBZ: After two seasons on campus, what are your thoughts on Butch Jones?
Bearcats Blog: I’m sold. Last season was a bigger transition than some realized. The defense was young and not great. The offensive line was in shambles. It was a year of change. Everyone seemed to buy in this year. The team was determined not to relive last season. I don’t think many people out there thought Cincinnati would win 10 games this season. That was pretty optimistic for the most die hard of UC fans.
Jones is also recruiting very well. UC landed 4 star recruit Jameel Poteat last year. They’ve landed Rivals 4 star recruit Dennis Norfleet this season. Rivals has the class ranked 32nd right now. This is one of the best classes in UC history. Things appear to be on an upward slope.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Bearcats Blog: The lasting memory for this season has to be the image of Zach Collaros being injured against West Virginia. That game changed Cincinnati’s season. The Bearcats had the chance to win that game with Legaux, but having Collaros in the game the second half would have made a big difference. Plus, WVU scored a TD on that play. Cincinnati had no life against Rutgers. Poof went the Big East title hopes.
CFBZ: We saw some of back-up QB Munchie Legaux this year when Zach Collaros was injured. Is the QB job Leagaux’s next year or will there be an open battle?
Bearcats Blog: I think there is going to be a battle in camp, with Legaux in the lead. Jordan Luallen, who ran primarily the wildcat, should get a chance to win the job, as will Brandon Kay. UC has a couple of QBs coming in, Trenton Norvell, a pro style QB, and Bennie Coney, a dual threat. Ultimately I think the job is Legaux’s to lose. He has to improve on his footwork and accuracy though.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar players for the Bearcats that you think can step up and have an impact on the field next season?
Bearcats Blog: On the defensive side of the ball, I think Jordan Stepp is going to have some nice numbers. He was part of the lineman rotation, and with Wolfe and John Hughes gone, he’s going to get the opportunity for more snaps. Nick Temple at linebacker could be one to watch. He showed flashes of potential this season.
Offensively I’ll say Alex Chisum. He made some huge plays this season, coming along more as the season progressed. He’s probably going to step into the starting lineup in DJ Wood’s spot. Chisum wears 80 and has been compared to former receiving stud Armon Binns. The coaches rave about his ability in practice, going as far as saying that he was practicing so well they had to play him.
Akise Teague. He was injured and didn’t play a lot this season. He’s got a ton of talent. He might not be the starting running back, but I think he’ll be a nice combo to whoever is the starter.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big Ten- Minnesota Golden Gophers
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers